The Sunflower Way

closeup of golden sunflowers and blue skyWhenever the yen for discovery returns, it is time to be off again on a road trip. Not for us—the freeways with their endless lines of speeding traffic and sterile scenery. By choosing to explore an unfamiliar back road or byway, delightful and unexpected surprises often result.

The Queensland road between Warwick and Toowoomba is usually a busy highway. While searching for an alternate route, we discovered a 50 kilometre stretch taking us from Warwick to Allora. Since this lovely little town is only a stone’s throw away from Toowoomba, our newly found road, the Sunflower Way, proved irresistible. At Warwick we entered it via Victoria Street, turned right into Rosehill Road, and followed the signs to Allora. This was a perfect choice!

A patchwork countryside of ploughed black soil, green lucerne, and brick-red sorghum delighted us. But it was the fields of golden sunflowers in full bloom that provided a magnificent sight, even in late March at the end of the sunflower cycle. Drifts of deep yellow fields stretched as far as we could see.

Sunflowers are majestic, towering over most people’s heads, and they grow best in full sunshine. The seeds are sold as a snack food or as a component of a bird seed package. Sunflower oil, extracted directly from the seeds, creates inexpensive cooking oil and is also an additive to biodiesel fuel. After the seeds have been processed, the remaining cake becomes healthy livestock feed.

The name, Sunflower (helianthus annuus), possesses only one large flower head, sitting atop a tall unbranched stem. It may have derived its name from the blooming yellow gold head, which resembles the sun. A number of fields had already been harvested with their brilliant flower heads gone and the stalks standing alone – like solitary sentinels. These will finally whither and fall, waiting to be ploughed back into the soil as green manure. Thankfully enough fields remained in all their blazing glory to make our drive along the Sunflower Way a memorable one.

When we reached the township of Allora we explored its historic streets. These feature buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s, together with lovingly tended gardens and parks. The area also offers an opportunity to visit the heritage listed, ‘Glengallan Homestead.’ Our drive was a delightful way to finally reach our destination of Toowoomba. If you find yourself here in high summer, its radiant fields of gold will take your breath away. Yet in any season this back road is a beauty, so be sure to put it on your bucket list and make time to enjoy the Sunflower Way.


Click here to visit Mary’s website of photography and writing: Nature as Art and Inspiration.

Photo by the author

The Carnival of Flowers

closeup of multicolored flowers
Toowoomba, one of Australia’s garden cities, is located west of Queensland’s capital city of Brisbane. A university and cathedral city, Toowoomba residents also enjoy its 150 spectacular parks and gardens. Situated high on the crest of the Great Dividing Range, with a cooler climate and rich volcanic soil, ‘Absolutely everything will grow here,’ say the locals.

closeup of bright flowers To savour the delights of the festival our first stop includes the magnificent grounds of The Laurel Bank Park. Here an incredible free-growing meadow has been planted. Visitors wander amongst the cacophony of colour as they stroll through tulips, daisies, pansies, and an arbour, festooned with lavender wisteria.

Our next stop at the Toowoowisteria arbor with purple flowersmba Regional Art Gallery, leads to a room where landscape and botanical paintings from the gallery’s collection have been hung. Scattered among the pictures are stunning sculptural floral works, created by members of the Toowoomba Ikebana Group. Decorated in the Japanese style, each piece showcases fresh flowers, leaves, and branches – all appearing in their natural and individual beauty.

 

orange flower arangement

After a tasty outdoor lunch and a strong coffee, we decide to spend the remainder of our day in the city’s heart. Here we plan to visit Queens Park, Toowoomba’s premier site. This key landmark is the focus for the 76th Carnival of Flowers, its Flower Market, the Food and Wine Festival, and a Live Concert Series. Many activities are happening here.

We enter the park through the lovely Cherry Blossom Walk into the great expanse of a 19th century Victorian park and botanical garden. It is styled as a parterre garden, presenting 
an arrangement of ornamental flower beds in various sizes, shapes, and colours. All are contained within a canopy of stately trees and areas of expansive green lawns.
hedgerows blooming in red and white

During the 2015 Carnival of Flowers, more than 100,000 visitors flocked to Toowoomba from far and wide. It was a delight to see so many return again this year, absorbing the beauty and peaceful ambience of the park. Cameras were working away in every pair of hands as the children roamed and played freely among the parterre beds. The weather was also kind as the day was warm and sunny. We finally left the park on a botanical high and next year we plan to do it all over again.

flower bed of red and whitecloseup of red and white flowers

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. … There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

long rows of flowers beds


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The Road to Coober Pedy

Austrailian desert landscapeA two lane road stretches ahead, more than 526 kilometres long, with only 2 comfort stops and hot food to be found between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy — the opal mining centre of South Australia. Empty fields of red, orange and reddish brown soils are occasionally dotted with tufts of spinifex grass and the ever present salt bush. Our timing was right on cue as we caught the salt bush in bloom, decorated with myriads of tiny white flowers. Its sage green cover appears to be dusted with splashes of silver when the salt bush is bathed in sunlight. Nature has created an unbelievable landscape to blanket this immense and dusty land. The colours here are intense. We are immersed in total silence.

Close-uyp of desert bushIn this primal bushland, drought never seems to break and those who have settled here only receive 10 – 12 inches of rain per annum. Occasionally short, stubby acacia trees reach their maximum height of 3 metres. In this primal bushland when a tree loses its leaves, only the desiccated trunk and branches remain. These ghostly sentinels silently guard the vast, barren landscape until they too finally collapse to litter the area. Underground water will seep up to form a pond or small lake that quickly evaporates, leaving only salt crystals behind.

As everything lies baking in the sun, is this landscape too monotonous to enjoy Desiccated tree in desertviewing for hours of travel? We don’t think so. When we leave the car for an occasional leg stretch or a photograph, to tread upon the rocks and bones of this land, we feel we are being transported back to the very beginning of time. Under the mesmerizingly beautiful, austere landscape, that weaves its spell to draw us in, we are only intruders in this most ancient country on earth.

Roadside view of desert


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Photos by Mary Mageau. Photos and text ©Mary Mageau

Bones of the Earth

Granite boulders form an archIn Queensland’s Granite Belt all the bones of the earth are laid bare. Rock is everywhere — scattered in piles of rounded boulders, exposed in great slabs throughout ridges, creeks and forests, or appearing on bare domed mountains, soaring above the low lands and valleys. Here in the midst of an overpowering granite landscape the question begs to be asked, ‘Where did all this rock come from?’

Originally Stanthorpe granite was a molten mass of magma, thrust into the older surrounding rocks some 240 million years ago, during the early Triassic period. Deep below the surface it began to cool, allowing its minerals to solidify and grow into large crystals, still evident in the rocks today. Since then the slow process of erosion has exposed the granite to aeons of ongoing weather events.Weathered granite boulders

In the fresh rock surfaces, four mineral constituents can be plainly seen. Clear grains of quartz sparkle in the sun light, while pink and white feldspar crystals and black flakes of mica are sprinkled through the rocks like salt and pepper seasoning. As erosion slowly removes the great weight of rock above the land’s surface, stresses are released. These allow the granite to crack along fractures, particularly those located along major sheet joints, parallel to the surface. This action isolates large sheets of rock of varying thicknesses. As weathering and decomposition proceeds, this process eventually sculptures the sheets into rounded boulders or ‘tors.’

Tors: Rounded Granite boulders

Near Pozieres lies a tumble of these massive tors known as Donnelly’s Castle. Granite Boulders form a castlePiled helter-skelter into outlooks, caves and twisting corridors, this natural fortress sheltered Captain Thunderbolt, his outlaw gang and their horses for many years. The escaped convict freely roamed the New England Tablelands in the 1860s, evading capture through his prowess as a horseman and his intimate knowledge of the terrain. As we explore the rocky outcrop, we imagine him hiding in the caves or fleeing through a maze of passages.

The pristine beauty of this place with its stark shapes and forms will always remain a popular Australian destination. Here a visitor can marvel at the variety of nature’s distinct handiwork by experiencing the power and size of these magnificent bones of the earth.
Hiker stands by huge round boulder


Click Here to visit Mary Mageau’s blog: Nature as Art and Inspiration

The Mighty Oak

Winter oak leaves on a branchWinter brings a cornucopia of new sights to appreciate as we travel southward to inland Australia. This year our destination leads us to our national capital city of Canberra. Located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) near the Brindabella Ranges, this largest of Australia’s inland cities is sited at an elevation of 580 metres (1,900 feet) above sea level.

Gone are the lush sub-tropical trees and flowers of our home in Queensland as nature unfolds a new panorama before us. Canberra’s urban design was influenced by the garden city movement, thus it incorporates large areas of natural vegetation. Wide streets and boulevards, nature strips and parks, all create expansive and uncluttered vistas. These significant areas of natural vegetation have earned Canberra its special title as the ‘bush capital.’

Oaks line a city walkwayThe city boasts large numbers of hardwood, cold climate trees, and the mighty oak features everywhere. Deep gold to russet canopies soar above the homes and parklands, lending a rugged aspect to the surrounds. As the dying leaves begin to drop in winter, they litter the ground to produce a crunching sound underfoot. As we ramble among them we admire their size and colour.

For some botanical information — the oak is a tree or shrub in the genus, Quercus, (Latin for oak tree). The genus is native to the Northern hemisphere and includes both deciduous and evergreen species, extending from the cool temperate to the tropical latitudes in Asia and the Americas. Oaks have spirally arranged leaves of many varieties — serrated, or with smooth margins. Flowers, called catkins, are produced in spring and its fruit, the acorn, is a nut surrounded by a cup-like structure or cupule. Each acorn contains one seed and takes 6 – 18 months to mature.Botanical art of oak leaves and acorns

As a tree with many uses, its wood has great strength and hardness together with some appealing grain markings — particularly when quarter sawn. Oak planking was favoured during the 9th and 10th centuries for Viking long ships. Since the Middle Ages, wide boards of oak were prized as interior panelling, such as can be found in the debating chamber of London’s House of Commons.

Fine furniture has been crafted from this wood. Timber framed buildings and floor planks were often in use by the wealthy, while oak barrels were everyone’s choice for ageing wines, whiskey and for storing oil. Oak wood chips impart a wonderful flavour and aroma to fish, meat and even cheeses when these are employed in the smoke houses.

Bark from the cork oak, Quercus suber, produces famous corks and wine stoppers. Oak bark is also rich in tannin thus it becomes an important staple in the tanning of hides to produce leather. In Korea, oak bark is produced as shingles for traditional roof construction.

Slow to grow, standing straight and tall, shading a large area under its canopy and providing material for many uses — the mighty oak should be celebrated as one of nature’s great gifts.